Florida Agriculture embraces Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Posted at 12:34 pm on 02/22/2018 by Rahul Razdan

 Florida Agriculture embraces Autonomous Vehicle Technology  by  william rhey and xxx

It’s tempting to overlook agriculture when discussing AV technology. But there are more applications than you might believe. Commercial drones are already in place, using sensors to assess the need for fertilization, irrigation, crop health, crop maturity and productivity potential.  On the horizon are robots capable of monitoring, cultivating and harvesting crops 24/7, with little or no human labor involvement.

In the short term, sensors and automation hold promise for Florida agricultural industries long dependent upon troublesome labor politics and economics.   AV related technology will allow surveying, planting, maintaining and harvesting of crops at levels of efficiency never before seen.

The dozen[KPM6]  C-level executives attending the Executive Summit were audience to a presentation by Gary Wishnaski, president and CEO of Wishnaski Strawberry Farms in Plant City, Florida.  The company grows, harvests, packs and ships strawberries throughout the United States.  

Gary noted that in his industry, harvest labor accounts for 33 percent of total costs.  The industry faces problems of a shrinking labor force, high labor costs, political risks and the perishability of its products.  He also pointed out opportunities realized by the increasing speed of processors and advances in GPS and stereo vision technology.  The result the creation of a strawberry industry consortium, consisting of companies that make up 60% of strawberry production in the US – which has established a start-up robotics company and a cost-effective robotic strawberry picker.[KPM7]

Just a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that such a device could never be developed.  However, advances in sensor sensitivity and data processing speed (Nvidia’s processor crunches 30 gigabytes of data per second), coupled with GPS and “stereo vision” have enabled the creation of a robotic picker that can harvest strawberries day or night.  After three years of testing on rails, the robotic picker is ready to deploy on wheels in strawberry fields this season.  And it is not the only game in town.  Other initiatives, such as a robotic pickers developed by Agrobot – are promising to transform the industry.

Benefits to growers include lower harvesting costs, improved harvest quality, energy savings (berries can be picked at night and need less cooling), 30 percent reduced plastic usage and increased yields of at least 10 percent.   The robot can also be used to scout fields for pests and measure more accurate yields. Gary indicated that the biggest barrier to development of this device has been money and overcoming resistance to the “it can’t be done” mentality.  

Florida Poly’s critical role as the connector and enabler of this technology for Florida agriculture was clear.  This is a university located in the center of a vital agricultural area.  There is a future for continuous development of technology that will increase agricultural quality and reduce costs of production.   

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